QCS Senior Writer
A Tucumcari resident’s story Thursday of how a local legislator’s office helped him receive disability benefits highlighted a visit to Tucumcari by a staff member from the Roswell office of U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).
Iris Chavez, the staff member, spoke with senior citizens and other residents at the Tucumcari Senior Citizens Center. She emphasized that Heinrich’s regional office staff can help them with difficulties in obtaining services from the federal government.
“We come out to the communities to talk with constituents about any issues they may need help with,” she said.
Richard Hart, the Tucumcari resident, said, “It is because of an office hours held here locally by a previous legislator that I was able to apply and receive my disability benefits.”
Hart said neck surgery to correct a vein blockage left him disabled and made it necessary for him to seek disability benefits.
‘It was such a blessing to have someone come to Tucumcari and assist us in the application process,” said Kay Hart, Richard’s wife. “We would not have known where to go in order to apply. It makes a difference when the legislators or their staff come out to our area offering help.”
Chavez said Heinrich has been advocating simpler and faster application processes for federal services and benefits.
On Wednesday, Heinrich and Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) introduced the bi-partisan Veterans Benefits Claims Faster Filing Act, a bill designed to help reduce the backlog of veterans disability claims that have been pending for more than 125 days — about four months, according to a press release issued jointly by the senators.
In May, the news release stated, the Veterans Benefits Administration announced its Fully Developed Claims Community of Practice initiative whose goals are to eliminate the backlog by the end of 2015 and process claims within 125 days at 98 percent accuracy.
The bill would add requirements for the VA to track and post the average turnaround time for veterans when they are filing their claims, the news release said. It would also require the VA to inform veterans that under current law, when they file a claim online using the Fully Developed Claims (FDC) program, they are eligible to receive up to an extra year of benefits. Filing claims through the FDC program accelerates turnaround times and makes processing more efficient than filing a claim on paper, according to the press release.
Currently, 82 percent of VA disability claims are still filed on paper, and the average processing time nationally is 330 days, about 11 months. New Mexico’s average is 271 days, or about nine months, the news release stated.
The bill and the VA’s initiative will help ensure that veterans’ claims never reach backlog status, the news release stated
“Too many veterans are waiting far too long to receive the benefits they have earned,” said Heinrich. “This commonsense approach will help accelerate the claims process while reducing the number of backlog claims. We have an obligation to keep America’s promise to our veterans by providing them, without delay, the best care and benefits our country has to offer. Answering the call of duty runs deep throughout New Mexico’s history, and I will continue to fight for our veterans just as they have heroically fought for us.”
Legislator’s staff emphasizes senior assistance